Poem on Reigelman’s MLK Experience by George Ella Lyon ’71

Posted by Centre News in Alumni, Centre In The News, News 19 Jan 2015

MLK2Article courtesy of The Advocate-Messenger.

Milton Reigelman’s experience on the memorable day Martin Luther King Jr. spoke the famous words “I have a dream” has been captured in a poem written by acclaimed Kentucky poet and Centre College graduate George Ella Lyon ’71. The poem is part of a collection she wrote with colleague J. Patrick Lewis about the 1963 March on Washington.

“I came to this project through song,” said Lyon. “First, I wanted to write a book about Mary Travers, activist-singer of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, who was born in Louisville. For many reasons, that impulse morphed into writing about Mary and Odetta and Joan Baez singing at the March on Washington. My hope was to explore how they became powerful young women whose lives and voices intersected that day.”

“For various reasons, that project didn’t take hold, but through my research, I became fascinated with the march itself,” Lyons added. “I imagined something for older readers, a sprawling, multi-voiced book. Because I’m first of all a poet, and because the intensity of poetry fits the intensity of the day, I began writing poems.

“Then I spoke at a children’s literature conference in California where J. Patrick Lewis was also on the program. As we were leaving for the airport, Pat asked if I wanted to collaborate on a collection of poems. ‘Voices from the March on Washington’ is the result,” said Lyon.

“The Real Question”

I’m a college student in Virginia,
a state practicing Massive Resistance
to school integration. Prince Edward
County has no public school at all
this fall. So my friends and I see
the March as our chance to make
a public statement against that shame,
to move toward something right.
Yesterday we drove to my parents’ house
in D.C. This morning we made a sign:
“William and Mary supports the March
on Washington,” which the college
absolutely does not. But for today
we are the college, see? We become
its conscience. As we leave the house
my kid sister asks, “Why are you going?”
“It’s time,” my buddy says.
“Why are you staying?”

From Voices from the March on Washington, by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon, WordSong, an imprint of Highlights Honesdale, Penn., 2014.